A bill designed to combat the rising numbers of alcohol sales to minors in Neosho passed with amendments and a plan to involve liquor license holders through a meeting to seek their input.
The bill, first brought before council last September, was the result of several local businesses failing a compliance check when they sold alcohol to minors, an occurrence consistent with previous stings.
Neosho Chief of Police David Kennedy provided numbers.
"Over the past 24 months, we've had 4 stings. We have 25 liquor license holders and in those 4 stings, 19 failed. Five of those failed twice and one business failed three times."
At the regular meeting of the Neosho City Council last week, two visitors appeared before council to present their views on the bill.
Reverend Jim Lowans, CEO of Teen Challenge Missouri and of Teen and Adult Challenge of the Four States in Neosho was first to share his thoughts.
"For the last three years, members of the Newton County Community Coalition have expressed concern over the high number of establishments that have continued to sell alcohol to minors. The Coalition has been at a loss on what (more) we could do. It was our intention with this ordinance to stop sales of alcohol to minors. We're not naive enough to think it will keep alcohol out of the hands of minors but it will show that the city is serious. You as a council are responsible for Neosho. We in no way oppose anyone in the community selling alcohol to minors. But, we will fight tooth and nail to stop the sale of alcohol to minors."
Local attorney David Sims also addressed the council.
"I am here to speak about the possibility of the city passing an ordinance that may punish a person for the actions of another. We can't have ordinances that punish one person for another person's actions."
Sims concerns centered around the store owners and license holders being reprimanded for sales of alcohol to minors.
"These are crimes," Sims said. "The employees that sold the alcohol, the person who attempts to purchase the alcohol is a crime. That doesn't mean that the business owner's license should be taken away for what an employee has done."
He expressed other concerns about the wording regarding nuisances in the ordinance.
"There are provisions in this ordinance that have nothing to do with the sale of alcohol. It's the same violation whether you have weeds that are too high, music too loud or you sell a gallon of vodka to a 16-year old."
Mayor Ben Baker shared his thoughts with the council.
"We've tabled this issue and brought it back so we cane take some time to discuss this. There's a serious problem. I don't think anyone would disagree with that."
Baker proposed some changes to current code and to the bill. Council Bill Doubek also had some changes to suggest. Some of the changes involved changing the repercussions for the business owner in the event an employee sells alcohol to a minor.
Councilman Carmin Allen expressed about the city's ability to enforce the bill.
"I'll tell everyone up front I won't support this. David (Chief Kennedy) and the police department doesn't have enough manpower to enforce. Words don't mean anything if you can't enforce."
Allen questioned Kennedy if his department has enough staff to enforce.
"That's why we only do compliance checks once or twice a year," Kennedy replied.
Councilman Jon Stephens also added to the discussion.
"This has to be stopped. To keep passing the buck, it's childish. It's irresponsible. It's your responsibility as a business owner to train your employees. There has to be some responsibility somewhere."
Councilman Tom Workman, owner of a business that sells alcohol, asked that the council consider seeking input from liquor license holders.
"Mr. Mayor, could I offer a compromise - can we pass this with the stipulation that we get together with license holders and law enforcement to make further amendments?"
The bill passed with no votes from Allen and Workman.
Additional council actions will appear in an additional story this week.